Saturday, October 12, 2013

On Supertaskers

Could we train ourselves to reach their level of multitasking ability?

Though our Supertaskers were identified based on their behavioral performance in cognitive tasks with which they had little if any prior training, it is a question for future research as to whether it might be possible to train others to reach their level of superior multitasking ability. Our current thinking is that Supertaskers’ level of multitasking ability is indeed innate. However, as we conduct more inter-disciplinary research with Supertaskers, and hopefully gain a greater understanding of what factor(s) might distinguish Supertaskers from the rest of us, it may be possible to use Supertaskers’ overall profile of performance as a guide for designing training regimes to help others be more effective at multitasking.

What studies of Supertaskers are you planning next?

Most recently, our primary research focus has been to identify what might be unique about Supertaskers: whether in terms of genetics, underlying brain activity/structure, behaviour, or a host of other variables. Our initial brain imaging results have been especially promising, revealing that Supertaskers may be more effective in recruiting key aspects of prefrontal cortex. That is, relative to matched control subjects, the Supertaskers are more efficient, achieving greater levels of behavioural performance in dual-task paradigms with less associated neural activity. Supertaskers keep their brains “cool” under demanding cognitive loads, perhaps making them less susceptible to the behavioural interference that often accompanies multitasking. Notably, such neural efficiency seems to also be associated with expertise in different domains. Our future neuroimaging research is examining both activation of the resting state or default mode network and the integrity of white matter pathways in the brains of Supertaskers, as well as the notion that certain occupations, such as fighter pilots and air traffic controllers, may show similar multitasking ability and patterns of neural efficiency.

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